Most small business owners will scoff at the mere mention of the word branding for their business. At a juncture in their business where every penny is being watched to ensure movement toward eventual profits, branding hasn’t even entered the equation.
The real truth is that all businesses – big or small – have a brand within them. It’s a matter of finding a way to bring it out to make your company stand apart from your competitors.
Many small business owners neglect branding because they feel it’s an expense they can’t afford. But branding can help position you as the expert in your niche – and it can catapult your profits upward faster than many other components within your business strategy.
While it’s true that the big businesses shell out big bucks to make a brand for their company, it really isn’t necessary to spend that much money. Branding is what sets you apart from other companies offering the same type products or services as you.
It could come from your logo, awesome customer service, the quality of the product you put on the market, or the buzz you generate in your niche. The next time you watch television, actually pay attention to the commercials.
What are some of the brands you see in the companies that placed those ads on the air? State farm insurance has a commercial jingle that says, “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.” It’s not only their jingle – but also a brand, because it invokes feelings of trust in their target audience.
You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to get a brand for your company. Figure out what you want to be known for and develop a tag line or motto for your business.
What makes the store Payless shoes stand out from their competitors? The simple fact that the customer pays less for a pair of shoes than most shoe stores! They created branding right in their business name.
Branding is not something you have to break the bank to get. Figure out what your company or product’s strong points are and build from there. Let your business grow and get your company’s image developed by providing a brand to make you stand out from those you’re competing against.
How a Small Business Can Go Big on Customer Service
Almost every company, whether they’re big or small, has a customer service department – or at the very least an owner who wears the customer service hat on a daily basis.
A small business can actually become big based on their customer service. Before you start laughing at the idea, let’s take a look at the differences we see in small business customer service versus the customer service we see in the larger companies.
The bigger they are – the harder they fall. This rings true with the larger companies and their customer service. Call a big company with a complaint and you’ll rarely get a satisfactory resolution. In fact, you might hang up before you even reach a human because they keep you embroiled on their automated system until you finally feel defeated and chalk it up to a lesson learned.
Customers can lose interest in a company fast if they don’t get their complaints taken care of in a timely manner. A small business owner can offer personalized complaint resolution in a timely manner.
Policies are a pitfall. The larger companies generally have some kind of policy in place to protect themselves – the fine print you forgot to read when you bought the product.
The smaller business owner tends to stand by his product or service, or is so intent on growing his business that he delivers above and beyond your expectations to ensure that you remain loyal to his brand.
Make sure you treat every customer the same and provide the kind of customer care you’d want to have if it was you on the other end of the line making the call. Sometimes, you might lose a customer based on his or her dissatisfaction, but don’t let it cause you to tarnish your reputation by being rude or negative with them. Continue being polite, because even though you didn’t meet their needs, they could recommend someone to you in the future whose needs you will meet.
Customer service is meant to help support the customer whenever they have questions or problems. When you address them as a person and not a case number they’re more likely to come back and do business with you again.
The small business owner has the advantage in this respect. Their business focus is on their customers and getting them to come back. Larger companies have the luxury of seeing an influx of new customers every day, so they’re sometimes not as concerned with keeping the old ones happy. Take advantage of your small business status and go big on customer service or it could be the one thing holding you back from achieving growth in your company.
Small Business Accounting Tips
Having an accountant on your in-house team is ideal, but not all small businesses can afford to have one. If this is the case, you can do it yourself or utilize some of the employees you may already have to do the accounting tasks.
It’s important to keep your personal and business finances separate in order to keep things straight when it comes to tax time. Don’t confuse yourself more by trying to mix the two together.
You want to keep thorough records of business transactions and accounts receivables. When tax time rolls around, you can just use these to add up the figures instead of spending time shuffling through scraps of paper in a shoebox.
Balance the books right away. Don’t wait for several transactions to occur and then decide to balance them. Some business owners put it off and then the task seems insurmountable.
Be sure to check your financial statements often to determine where you’re spending too much or too little. You may discover if there are ways to cut costs in your small business or if there are ways to budget some extra items into your business.
Always keep up to date on the new tax laws and regulations. Don’t wait until tax time to check them out. There may be something you can use now that would help you save money when it’s time to file your taxes.
Don’t be afraid to use accounting software. There are many out there to choose from and they can keep track of all your information in one place. In most cases, all you would need to do is type in the necessary information and it does the calculating for you. Most accountants use these anyway, so why not do it yourself?
Always keep copies of all of your invoices in case the originals get lost. If using computer software, make sure you back up all of your files so that you have a copy in case something unforeseen should happen.
Research all of the possible tax deductions you can use in your business. Some items are deductible in full, while others take depreciation into account. Also, the tax strategy will be different for small businesses operating out of the home versus brick and mortar businesses that are independent from the household.
An accountant can take the headaches away for you to some degree, and you don’t have to hire one onto your staff. If you can’t quite afford one yet, then take pleasure in knowing that all is not lost with the vast amount of do-it-yourself resources available to the small business owner.
Small Business Advertising on a Shoestring Budget
You started a small business and want to expand it, but don’t have much money to spend on your advertising needs. This really isn’t a problem because there are many ways to advertise your business using free options.
The Internet provides us with one of the best ways to use word of mouth advertising campaigns to different people throughout the world. Here are some of the ways you can use the ‘net for free advertising for your small business:
- Use press releases to advertise your products and services. Press releases can be used to promote an event or to launch a new product. They’re an easy way to promote your company and you can submit them to several different directories online. Some allow you to post them free, while others have upgrade releases that cost a fraction of what traditional advertisements would cost.
- Join message board forums. This seems like a small way to advertise, but it’s really not. Some boards allow you to provide a link to your website in your profile signatures. People who visit the forum are curious and will check out the link to see what it is that you’re offering.
They’ll pass on that information to other people they know who may be looking for what you have to offer. If you join message boards that nicely complement your company’s products, then you may be able to post on the forum letting everyone know what you have that they need and where they can get it. You’ll have to check the forum’s Terms of Service to see what’s allowed.
- Start a blog – or even a podcast! If you market your blog or podcast well, people will return time and time again to see what’s new with your business. They’ll send other people from their own blogs and pass on the links to their friends.
- Use social networking sites. Social sites like Squidoo and MySpace allow you to join groups with likeminded people with whom you can connect. You can easily position yourself as the “go-to” person in your niche, and post links to your site promoting your products and services. There are broad social networks, like Squidoo, that showcase topics on every inch of the spectrum, and niche-specific social sites like the one for eco-friendly enthusiasts or baby boomers.
- Use article marketing. Providing articles on other sites that have links to your website can drive more traffic to your domain. Using keywords in the articles can help the search engines find them and funnel more customers through to your offer.
It’s not hard to find numerous free ways to promote your small business – even if it’s an offline venture that you own. Every business needs a home on the ‘net, and the Internet can help you develop a loyal following in any demographic.
Small Business Financing Resources
If you’re looking to start your own small business, but don’t know where to go to get the financial resources you need to start, then you might consider some of these options depending on your personal situation.
Government Small Business Loans – Check with your local government agency. There are some government loans you can apply for on a local, state, and federal level to receive the money you need to start or grow your business.
You could get a small micro loan, disaster relief loan to rebuild your business from a natural disaster or a simple short term lending loan. You might even be able to get a loan based on your geography!
Veteran Loans – If you’re a military veteran who served in the armed forces, you may be eligible for a veteran loan to use on your small business. Check with your local veteran’s chapter to apply and see if you qualify for a loan and how much you might be able to get to use on your business.
Small Business Loans – The Small Business Administration offers small business loans and resources to those who qualify for a loan. The SBA works through private financial institutions to offer some of these loans at a low interest rate if you qualify.
USDA – If your small business is in the agricultural industry, then you may qualify for a small business loan. Check out the USDA website to find all of the information you need about their small business loans and what information they need when you apply.
Women – There are many small business loans that cater to owners who are women. Some are offered through your state while others are offered through small business corporations, organizations and non-profits.
Minorities – There are some small business loans provided to qualifying minority groups. The MBDA works with minority groups and evaluates their situation to determine if they can apply for a small business loan. They also offer many tips and resources to help you get started with your business venture.
Grants – Grants are available through the government, corporations, non-profits, and other organizations. This is money that doesn’t have to be paid back, but with some grants, there are specific regulations on how the funds can be spent.
There are many small business loan resources available for almost any situation. Check out all of your options to see which resource will work best for your business needs.